Tag Archives: Dexter

And Another Thing…

So yesterday’s post was about why you shouldn’t be a writer. And despite what some people seemed to think, I was kinda-sorta serious about it. I think there would be less heartache in your lives if more people realized how painful and unpleasant writing can be. Also, there would be less competition for me.

But today I realized I left out another big reason you should eschew the way of the writer.

See, when you become a writer, you start out by reading a lot of books about the craft, about writing smooth prose and getting your structure right. And then, when you write your mind refers back to what you’ve learned and measures it against what you’re creating. And pretty soon, you’ve got this tiny little editor that lives in your brain, and his job is to tell you whether a particular story is working or not.

This little guy is important. He keeps you on the straight and narrow, and he helps to keep you on the straight and narrow with your story. But there’s one problem.

He never shuts up.

I’m not kidding. You will never be able to watch a movie or read a book again without this guy popping up and saying, “Holy cow, can we tone it back on the exposition people? Work some of that information into the story. You’re ruining a perfectly good narrative with your infodumps!”

“But Ethelbert,” you say (all good inner-editors are named Ethelbert) “I just want to read this book. Can’t we save the analysis for another time?”

But Ethelbert just glares at you and keeps going. “Do they think this is good writing? Do they? Did the author apply these adverbs with a trowel?”

And the worst thing is, Ethelbert generally has a point. And since Ethelbert is in your head it only makes sense that you tell someone what Ethelbert it saying.

“That movie failed as a narrative because the protagonist didn’t have any clearly defined goals to accomplish,” you tell your date as your walking out of the theatre. “Also, the villain would have been far more effective if she had been shown to actually care about the protagonist, rather than just being in it for her own good.”

Your date is not impressed.

Seriously. Every time me and my wife get into a movie or TV series I always have to discuss why we like it. I think I spent just as much time talking to my wife about Dexter as I did watching it. I spent hours whining about how annoying and pointless the Lila story arc was, and she’s just nodding going, “Yeah. Uhuh. Whatever.”

I’m boring her to tears and it’s all Ethelbert’s fault.

So again, take my advice. Become an accountant or something. Accountants are way more interesting.

Stories that Stick

When I was a kid, my dad read me this poem out of a book.  You’ve probably heard it before.  The opening line goes, “One bright day in the middle of the night, two dead men got up to fight.” Ringing any bells? I thought so.

The thing that really stuck with me about that poem, was the fact that everything stuck with me about that poem.  I’m not kidding.  After hearing it one time I was able to recite it back verbatim.  Now, I’m no memory wizz.  Far from it.  In fact it took me nearly two months to learn my new address after the last time I moved.  But that one little ditty has stuck in my mind like glue to this day.

Why?  Well, you can probably give some of the credit to the rhyming scheme.  It’s always easier to remember poetry than prose.  But I’ve tried and I still can’t get past memorizing the first few lines of “She walks in beauty like the night,” so there must be something deeper at work here.

I think the answer is in the nature of the poem itself.  It’s all about opposites.  Night and day, dead and alive, etc.  It’s the contrast between the concepts that makes the poem memorable.  Or to put it another way, opposites stick.

Why should you care? Because as a writer, you’re going to need to make something stick in your readers’ minds; you’re going to want to create characters and situations that will linger long after they’ve finished the book.

Great fiction from all eras of literature makes use of this principle.  Take a look at some examples off the top of my head.

Harry Potter: a boy goes to a school (boooring) to learn to become a wizard (awesome!).  If you’ve read the books you know how well J. K. Rowling combines the boring and familiar elements of school with the fantastical elements of the wizarding world.  And it sticks.

Dexter: A serial killer (evil) works to bring other killers to gruesome justice (goodish). Of course there are other great things about the show, but all the best parts focus on Dexter trying to find the balance between the evil inside him and the mission for good he has taken for himself.  And it sticks.

Robin Hood: A thief (bad) works to bring about social justice (good).  And that one has stuck for hundreds of years.

Wildclown: A private detective (serious) has to dress like a clown (funny).

Zombies: Do I really need to spell this one out for you guys?

There are all kinds of ways you can apply this principle.  Malcolm Gladwell’s non-fiction books are a complete joy to read because he sets up something everyone takes for granted and then carefully shows why it was wrong.  He gives you the perfect contrast between assumption and reality.  And it sticks.

It can even help you in your blog writing.  For instance you might create a blog that starts off talking about a children’s poem and transitions into talking about creating memorable characters and situations.  And, hopefully, it sticks.

Don’t go overboard with it.  You really don’t want to end up with zombie-pirate-ninja-robots in your story.  No, no, you don’t.  I see that gleam in your eye, and it isn’t going to work.  It would be completely ridiculous story, don’t be a fool. Don’t….no don’t you open that word processor.  Come baaaack!

Okay, well for those that are left, I was trying to say that what you need to do is create one memorable thing for your story, one kernel you’re going to wrap this concept of contrast around.  It can be a character, it can be the story world, it can even be an integral part of the way the book is plotted.

It doesn’t have to be complex.  In fact I would argue that when it comes to contrast, simpler is better.  And if you do your job right you’ll create something that will stay with your readers long after they’ve finished the last chapter.

Create that kernel of contrast, and your work will stick for years to come.